'pedias: Wiki- vs. Encyclo-

I meandered from Digg through some rabbit holes to this Roughtype post on the “amorality” of “Web 2.0” by Nicholas Carr.

This is what I read:


For someone trying to remind us of the “objectivity” of the Web, Carr seems just as hysterical as the ecstatic self-styled e-prophets this article seeks to rebutt.

He also misses the point of Wikipedia as well as overvaluing print materials as a general information source. (I have noticed that one side effect of the era of the Internet and T.V. is that anything with a binding is automatically uncritically revered, but that is a subject for another blogpost.)

Print encyclopedias found in homes were often outdated beyond usability a year or two after their publication and were too expensive and huge to replace frequently enough to keep them accurate. Because new editions were coming out constantly, they too often contained factual errors, irrelevant information, and a bizarre choice of topics. Encyclopedias, including Wikipedia, are generally considered tertiary sources. For these and other reasons, many high schools and most colleges don’t accept encyclopedias as references on papers.

Anyway, that was the pre-Google Google. Before the web you couldn’t Google something you’d never heard of; you looked it up in your reference set if you were fortunate enough to own one. If you needed more information you went to a library. Now you can Google things, you can search libraries online to see which one has what you need and when your books are due, and you can order hard-to-find and out-of-print books from Amazon or eBay. There is a lot more crap on the Internet than in an encyclopedia, but there is also a lot more variety of useful information in a lot more depth in a lot more languages from a lot more sources.

Another beef I have with Carr’s article is that Wikipedia isn’t at its best in articles about the biography of Bill Gates or Jane Fonda (examples cited by Carr’s article), or about most trendy or controversial topics, but it is extremely useful for gaining a rough understanding of, say, Constructivism or PHP, or Conway Chained Arrow Notation, as well as finding things that haven’t made it into any print source yet. And it allows you to post the research paper you did for German Cinema History 413 on a film about which almost nothing is written (for example) on the Internet for anyone to discover. This is a potentially very useful thing, but Carr has propagandized against openly editable information by citing only useless examples.

On the Web, as in the rest of the world, the accuracy of your information depends on the thoroughness of your research. Those who see “Web 2.0” as a substitute for research skills are going to have some problems using it properly, because it is not so much a new resource as a very useful and confusing catalog of existing resources, like a big metalibrary.

Carr’s article is almost a year old as of this writing, and if you’re still afraid of “Web 2.0”, then you are either a crotchety, smug cynic or incapable of successfully navigating the Internet anyway.

(cross-posted to pesematology)



Wikipedia is a great aid in having intelligent conversations, especially over the phone, when your conversational partner can’t see you looking up that obscure film he just mentioned.

But who wants to have intelligent conversations when you can just rant about ideas and viewpoints you’ve already made up your mind about?